5 Good Game-Based Anime

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After Otaku Lounge’s previous article on live-action films based on anime and manga, I thought it might be fun to take a different approach and discuss some anime based on video games. As I’m sure even the more casual anime fans out there are well aware, game-based anime has a fairly horrendous track record. This is putting it mildly – said record is such that even quite average shows like Persona 4: The Animation are lauded as being some the best game-based anime of all time. Any listing of particularly bad shows would be extremely long and probably rather tedious – although I will say that I can’t un-see Devil May Cry, no matter how often I bash my head against the wall in the hopes of developing memory loss.

So rather than adding to that list by making my own version of terrible game-based anime, what I’d like to do instead is list the top 5 game-based anime which, despite all expectations due to that fact alone, are not only watchable but actually good. (Note that I’ll only be picking anime which have been adapted into television shows as opposed to films and OVAs. I should probably also point out that while I have the greatest respect for the medium, I am not a gamer. As in my last article, I’m primarily interested in choosing anime titles that can be fully understood and appreciated by those that aren’t familiar with the source material.)

 Without further ado, the top 5 countdown.

5. Kimi ga Nozomu Eien/Rumbling Hearts

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For obvious reasons, it’s exceedingly rare for an anime based on an adult romance visual novel to be anything but appalling. When this 2001 Windows game was adapted into 14-episode anime in2003, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to watch it, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the series has a lot more depth than I’d have given it credit for. Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (Kiminozo for short, and released in North America as Rumbling Hearts) certainly has a couple of problems. The slow pacing style works for some sections but not for others, and the artwork and animation, while not by any means ugly, just doesn’t meet the standards of other titles that were released around the same time (e.g. Fullmetal Alchemist, Read or Die, Last Exile, Wolf’s Rain). That said, the complexity of some of Kiminozo’s characters goes far beyond what my initial expectations were, and it genuinely makes good use of its more melodramatic or clichéd story elements like Haruka’s amnesia and Takayuki’s PTSD. I also have to give props to the show for the way in which it approaches its sex scenes – again, in a manner much more sophisticated than I think most would assume at first glance.

4. Digimon

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Let it be known that I’m talking specifically about the first two televised seasons of Digimon (Digimon Adventure and Digimon Adventure 02), since everything else in the media franchise is mostly crap. Digimon started out as a virtual pet in 1997, similar in concept and design to the Tamagotchi, and was then adapted into a PlayStation game called Digimon World in January 1999. The first anime series began airing in Japan two months later and has since become a franchise of six anime seasons, nine anime films, and a truly disproportionate number of other video games. While the anime could be and frequently is casually dismissed as just another Pokémon rip-off, the truth is that those first two seasons of Digimon are more mature and sophisticated than Pokémon ever was. Still a children’s show? Of course, and the writing and action and copious amounts of filler often reflect that. Nonetheless, I’d hate for an anime to be disdained for no other reason than its age rating, and on an emotional and even psychological level, Digimon actually has plenty to offer. With some of the best characterisation I’ve seen in any children’s anime and some surprisingly dark themes (particularly as far as the second season is concerned), there’s far more to this show than meets the eye.

3. .hack//Sign

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Technically the 2002 .hack//Sign anime series isn’t based on any single video game per se, given that it came out a couple of months prior to the first PlayStaton 2 game .hack//Infection. However, the .hack franchise is a whole multimedia project designed by video game development studio CyberConnect2 and published by toy and video game company Bandai – of which .hack//Sign is but one part. I therefore don’t think it goes against the spirit of this article to include it, particularly when you take the anime’s premise into account. Unlike other anime shows that utilize game-based storylines as settings for sword-and-sorcery style action or adventure, .hack//Sign is almost completely character-driven and characterized mostly by its use of dark psychological and sociological elements. Anxiety, isolation, and escapism, among several other complex themes of this nature, make up the core of the story. Everything else is mostly background. The large amounts of dialogue can get drawn out at times and there’s some unnecessary filler to slog through, but with an extremely intricate cast, some lovely artwork and one of the best anime soundtracks to date (goddess Kajiura Yuki strikes again), .hack//Sign should rightfully be considered a classic.

2. Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

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Based on the Phantom of Inferno interactive visual novel first released for PC in 2000, this 26-episode anime series came out nearly a decade later in 2009. Granted, the plot is hardly stunningly original and made me think immediately of other hired killer stories like Léon: The Professionaland La Femme Nikita: a young man is kidnapped by the underground organisation Infero after witnessing the murder of a reporter, and all memories of his past life are erased. He is given two choices – either join Inferno as one of its assassins or die. While the story isn’t terribly innovative or subtle, what makes Phantom a cut above your average mafia-style action anime is the execution. Staff writer Urobuchi Gen has become well known for his sinister narrative style and sometimes surprisingly macarbe storylines (e.g. Black Lagoon, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica and Psycho-Pass), and Phantom is no exception. On top of its well-crafted atmosphere, the series doesn’t suffer from any pretentious or convoluted plot twists, and thankfully keeps its fanservice relatively minimal. In all, it’s a satisfying solid series with a nice tension that’s kept up from start to finish.

1. Steins;Gate

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Another visual novel originally released for Xbox 360 in 2009, Steins;Gate was then adapted into a manga before airing as a 24-episode anime series in 2011. I admit that on first watch, I believed there to be a major problem with the pacing of this show during its first half – the set-up just seemed way too long and not worth the payoff. Having watched the second half however, I’m forced to concede that said set-up was undeniably worth it. I don’t want to spoil anything by talking much about the story, but I do wholeheartedly recommend the show for anyone who’s a fan of time travel, cause and effect philosophy, or simply a decent sci-fi mystery/thriller. The plot twists make sense but aren’t predictable, the writing is spot on, and you can’t help but care for nearly every single one of the characters once the story starts getting into full swing. Add to this some great voice acting, an excellent soundtrack, and absolutely stunning visuals (seriously, I can’t praise the fluidity of the animation or the gorgeously rendered artwork enough), and we have ourselves a clear winner.

Question of the post: Would you add any other anime titles to the list of good game-based anime? How about the very worst game-based anime you’ve ever seen?

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35 thoughts on “5 Good Game-Based Anime

    • Admittedly I haven’t seen any of ef: a tale of memories, although I did watch a little of Hiiro no Kakera – and while I wanted to like the latter, I actually rather disliked what I saw. I know there are plenty of anime that start off poorly or simply mediocre and then get better, but I find I have less and less patience for that these days. There’s just so much anime out there that I’d rather watch the things that grip me immediately rather than have to sit through several episodes of dross first.

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      • I second the recommendation of ef: a tale of memories. Hiiro no Kakera was regrettably, other than the first season’s beautiful opening theme, a waste of bandwidth.

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      • Much of the setup to Hiiro no Kakera IS derivative, but the heroine doesn’t whine and doesn’t accept being ignorant.

        She actually spends time researching the history of her family and her inherited role.

        I thought that was refreshing, and added a degree of agency to the character that was good to see.

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  1. For some reason when I clicked on this post, I thought this would not include visual novel adaptations. As soon as I realised you were including them, Steins;Gate’s spot as #1 was assured. I was surprised not to see Clannad here, in that case.

    Anyway, my favourite video game adaptation – NOT including visual novels – would be the Tales of Symphonia OVAs. They made just enough changes from the game to be interesting to a gamer and the plot of the game is interesting anyway. I also liked the Persona 4 anime because it was funny. Devil Survivor 2 was horrible, though.

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    • I must be one of the only people I know who really didn’t like Clannad at all. I can certainly see that it has its merits, but it just didn’t grip me – I think it was trying way too hard to be clever, yet in the end never really managed to escape from the very clichés it was attempting to parody. As for Persona 4, I tried watching it and very quickly gave up – it’s lack of amusement factor for me personally is something I put down to having zero familiarity with the game. I agree with you that Devil Survivor 2 was pretty awful (although the visuals were nice), and I’ve never watched the Tales of Symphonia OVAs so no opinion there.

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      • I thought Persona 4 and Devil Survivor 2 were bad for the same reasons. Instead of trying to create great independent stories, they ended up falling back on weird tropes and using the driest of story structures. Definitely not worth it.

        I also liked Tales of the Abyss, although it’s been a while since I saw it and I could have only liked it because I didn’t know any better.

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  2. I saw only one episode of the Final Fantasy anime series and I was underwhelmed. Cheap-looking animation and a plot I don’t even remember anymore, save for a guy spending five minutes talking about what three bullets he was going to use that in-feasibly summoned Phoenix.
    I’ve heard a lot of harem-style anime are based on video games (which explains a lot). I think Clannad was and that’s my favorite show.

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    • I was also underwhelmed by the Final Fantasy anime series, although I didn’t watch much of it. And while I actually ended up buying a copy of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, I have no problem admitting that it was only because of the gorgeous visuals – god knows the scripting wasn’t exactly stellar.

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      • I’d say pretty much the same on Advent Children. I own it, too. Its plot is a dumb excuse to resurrect Sephiroth, the character motivations are stupid, and the dialogue can be downright cringe-worthy (dilly-dally, shilly-shally). But MAN is it fun to watch!

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  3. the only good thing about Steins;Gate are the last 3-4 episodes because of the plot-twist they copied from the movie The Butterfly Effect from 2004. But they overused it way too much and by the end of the anime I didn’t gave a crap anymore. And to make things worse, the entire plot of the movie revolves around the same damn thing but instead of Kuristina and Mayuri now is Okabe the one that need to be saved (by Kurisu), so color me totally uninterested. This movie will be 90 mins of deja-vu.

    Rumbling Hearts it’s a masterpiece of an anime that shouldn’t even be compared to the rest of this weakass Top 5, especially with other much better anime like Clannad (After Story because the first season is crap) out there. =/

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    • I haven’t seen the Steins;Gate movie and I don’t intend to, since I’m already quite satisfied with the way the series ended. Personally I don’t think it’s anything like The Butterfly Effect – obviously some of the same themes are explored, but the ways in which they’re used are completely different.
      As for Rumbling Hearts, I’d hardly call it a masterpiece, although it made it onto this list for a reason. And while I get that a lot of people love Clannad, I’m definitely not one of them. To me, it was just another moe reverse harem series that tried desperately to escape its own cliches but mostly ended up pandering to them instead.

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      • I’m not sure if Clannad After Story was based on the game, but I thought it was really good although I didn’t like the ending. Wasn’t too fond of the original series though. Anyway if it was I probably would have put After Story on the game-based anime list.

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        • I never watched After Story just because I didn’t like the original. It seems a lot of people are saying it’s a lot better than the first series though, so maybe I’ll get around to it at some point.

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  4. Very nice post! I definitely remember watching .hack and Digimon growing up. And thanks so much for liking my review of “My Neighbor Totoro.” I greatly appreciate it! Have a wonderful weekend, and God bless.

    (I hope you don’t mind my saying, but your profile picture is very pretty.)

    As for Persona 4, I haven’t seen the animation or played the game, but I do want to get around to playing it at some point.

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    • Thank you, and thank you. 🙂

      I tried watching the Persona 4 anime but I just couldn’t get all the way through. Like many other game-based anime, it suffers from terrible pacing, bad character development, and poor scripting. That said, I’m sure fans of the game would be able to appreciate it at least a little more than I did.

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  5. Great post and I like your topic! I agree with Digimon. I enjoyed it in a different way I enjoyed Pokemon. I like the art for DMC, I think they did a good work in that department. I’m not quite familiar with the other series, but I might check out Steins;Gate. Thank you so much for visiting my blog.

    For this year summer game to anime adaption, Brothers Conflict is okay so far. So far, I enjoyed Utapuri for an otome game adapted to anime and also La Corda d’ Oro. The worst for me so far is Starry Sky.

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    • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed. 🙂

      I’m currently watching Brothers Conflict as part of the new summer season line-up, but mostly in a guilty pleasure kind of way. While it’s far from the worst anime I’ve ever seen, I’m really just there for the lolz at this point.

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  6. Seeing S;G on here, what are your thoughts on C;H and R;N (if you’ve seen either)? I thought both of them were quite good adaptations of their respective games and decently interesting shows.

    As for worst video game adaptation, I’d have to say BRS (although that’s a bit of a muddled journey). But maybe that’s because I still feel so let down after my expectations were brutally smashed to pieces after the OVA (and then the series).

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    • I haven’t seen C;H, R;N, or BRS, sorry! I’ve heard excellent things about C;H though, so that’s on my eventual to-watch list. R;N I’ve heard much more mixed reviews about, although I’ll still probably be giving it a go at some point. I know next to nothing about BRS, although I must say the artwork I’ve seen around the place for it looks pretty cool.

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    • I’m afraid I’ve neither played the game nor seen the anime, so I don’t have an opinion to offer on Kanon. While there are some titles that have definitely proven worthwhile, I tend to steer clear of harem titles these days since they usually just aren’t my thing.

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  7. Wow super excited to see Digimon on the list! That show was hugely influential to me growing up and I’m glad you recognized it as a multilayered series instead of writing it off as some Pokemon knock off. Hooray!

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    • One of these days I’d really like to re-watch Digimon. While it wasn’t as influential to me growing up as it was to many other anime fans around my age, I still think it’s one of the far better child-orientated shows to come out during that time. 🙂

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  8. I’ve had Kimi ga Nozomu Eien on the shelf for a while and feel very tempted to take it out after this post. The same goes for .hack//Sign which I started but never finished. The two I have watched entirely, Phantom and Steins;Gate, I agree thoroughly with your ranking. One I’d like to add to the list is Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Not having played the game I can’t comment on the adaption but I loved the anime and the follow up Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai arc, too. Being one of the first horror/thriller animes I’d ever watched, I found it pretty flesh crawling. There was just something macabre about usually cute characters turning into psychos. I haven’t watched a particularly bad game-based anime, but I also found Persona 4 disappointing. It looked fairly promising but fizzled out quite early in the series. As always, a brilliant article! Thanks!

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    • I’m in two minds about Higurashi. I don’t especially like the horror genre in general, so I’m biased, but there were several things about it that I didn’t like – particularly much of the artwork and also the really fragmented way the story was told. I respect what it was attempting to do though, and enjoyed some of the ideas the series presented. And the atmosphere itself was well done – definitely nice and creepy, which is probably the most important thing.

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  9. Haven’t seen .hack but its generally not considered good. At least not a high level of good. Other than that, good choices. Especially Steins; Gate. That’s awesome. I do, however have 2 observations.
    1. Most of this list is actually visual novels. I’m not sure if one should really count them as video games. But if you actually do count visual novels as game, I’d say Clannad certainly deserves a spot here.
    2. I’m not sure this list can ever be completed without including Gungrave. Its a very good anime and is considered a great example of video game to anime adaption.

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    • I’m personally quite happy to count visual novels, as video games, although I can see why other people might not. That said, I don’t like Clannad. I know everyone else does, I know it supposedly did a lot for the genre, but I just didn’t care for it. Gungrave may or may not be an excellent anime adaptation, but I haven’t seen it yet, and I don’t like to make assumptions about things I haven’t yet watched, hence it wasn’t included here. 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Good Family-Friendly Anime | OTAKU LOUNGE

  11. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie.

    It’s quite a solid film considering the source material. To this day it’s still the best fighting game>anime conversion. How others have tried and not even come close (not even the live action film ohoho).

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    • I haven’t seen either of those yet, and I wanted to keep my list limited to things I had personally seen. But I’ll certainly check them out when I have time.

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